Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What I Saw of the 2011 Ethnohistory Conference, Part 1

The Annual Meeting of the American Society for Ethnohistory, a multidisciplinary academic organization dedicated to historical research on indigenous peoples (specializing in the peoples of the Western Hemisphere), took place last month in Pasadena, California. Your humble narrator was privileged to hold a place on this year's program and to present a paper on Chickasaws and commodification, though he was equally privileged to have attended nearly twenty other academic papers on aspects of Native North American history. In this and my next weblog post, I will be providing short summaries of or excerpts from the presentations I heard in Pasadena, beginning with these:

Mikaela Adams, as part of a fascinating comparative study of tribal citizenship in the post-Civil War southeast, noted that Mormon missionaries taught the Catawbas of South Carolina that they could "whiten" themselves by renouncing sin, as their "Lamanite" ancestors had once been white. (By 1900 or so, 80% of Catawbas were Mormons.)

Bill Carter complicated our view of Native Americans’ dependency on European goods by reporting that much of the merchandise requested by Iroquois in the late 18th century – even those at the Revolutionary-era refugee settlements near Fort Niagara – was “non-utilitarian,” (e.g. jewelry, fancy shirts, tobacco), and thus represented things with which Indians could easily dispense.

Julia Coates ruefully observed that many modern Cherokee Indians view their tribal membership card as merely an access point to services ("What do I get?"), then noted that people who took the Cherokee Nation's 40-hour Cherokee history course tended instead to view that card as a badge of ethnic pride and responsibility.

John Douglass and Steven Hackel described a recently excavated Gabrielino-Tongva site, probably the village of Guaspet, in the marshland near West Los Angeles, noting that the Indians there had family ties with Chumash and Catalina Indians (reflected in baptismal records) and traded with both for Spanish goods like shoes, beads, and copper pots (for drinking chocolate).

Tim Garrison, ably represented by Michael Green, reported on lawyer Elisha Chester's bizarre plan to relocate Cherokees, Choctaws and Creeks to the Columbia River Valley, where they could live without being molested by whites and serve the United States as colonial settlers in a contested region.

Alice Kehoe gave a negative overview of John Collier's Indian policy, codified in the "paternalistic" Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, and joined it to a shout-out to Richard Nixon, who stressed Indian autonomy (or some facsimile thereof) during his troubled presidency.

William Kiser discussed the evolution of Navajo pawnshops into large businesses (some occupying 12,000 square feet) with inventories of 60,000 or more items, noted their accession to some Navajo demands (like never selling "dead pawn"), and also noted in passing the high interest rates they charged (30-40% per annum).

Kevin McBride noted that the Pequot Indians had a network of tributaries and trading partners extending from Iroquoia to eastern New England, from whom they acquired goods such as "Mohawk stone" (greywacke) war hammers and Dutch brass kettles (which they cut into arrow points), and to whom, in the latter case, they owed protection, which generated the 1636 attack on Wethersfield which started the Pequot War.

Rowena McClinton, in a tribute session to Theda Perdue, noted that Cherokee women continued to consult conjurors in the 19th century because conjuring provided Cherokee women w/rituals that reinforced family relationships.

(To be continued...)

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